Like all of his victims, Jessica Jones feels that Kilgrave has irreversibly contaminated her: “There’s before Kilgrave, and after Kilgrave.”
For many people, that’s exactly how PTSD feels. The trauma splits life into two parts: time before and time after. There’s no “moving past” the trauma, because it so fundamentally changes everything that’s “after”—including who you are.
“AKA The Sandwich Saved Me” is all about Before versus After—it’s an episode full of flashbacks. It begins 18 months ago, in Jessica’s pre-Kilgrave life, as she works (and spectacularly quits) a series of boring, meaningless jobs. While Trish wants to save the world, Jessica wants… what? Nothing? Something else? Maybe she isn’t sure, but she certainly can’t be bothered to say.
The one thing that Jessica does seem to care about is Trish—protecting her from her creepy fans, listening (albeit skeptically) to her ideas about heroism and purpose and potential.
Back in the present, Jessica and Trish continue to investigate Malcolm, watching him meet with mind-controlled intermediaries and following him straight to Kilgrave.
Jessica faces a real dilemma—she can’t simply kill Kilgrave, because she needs him to vindicate Hope. So, with help from Trish and Officer Simpson, she comes up with a daring plan to kidnap him in broad daylight.
This is one of my favorite scenes in this whole show. As Jess, Trish, and Simpson figure out their next move, the battle-hardened Simpson throws out a lot of terms like “enemy combatant” and “extraction” and… essentially, he’s trying to mansplain kidnapping?
Anyway, they come up with a plan to shoot Kilgrave with a tranquilizer dart, stuff him in a van, and whisk him away to a “hermetically-sealed” soundproof room before he can wake up. The plan goes swimmingly until they’re ambushed by a bunch of hired bodyguards and mercenaries with stun batons. Jessica’s super-strength, Simpson’s spec-ops experience, and Trish’s Krav Maga are no match for sheer numbers, and Kilgrave’s men whisk him away to safety.
Now, I just joked about Simpson’s efforts to “contribute” to Jessica and Trish’s kidnapping gambit. But he’s actually a really important foil for Jessica, and for Trish, and for the way that Jessica’s fictional world seems to operate.
To defeat Kilgrave, Simpson’s first instinct is to militarize the situation. As a military veteran and an NYPD officer who routinely does “messed-up” things, he approaches danger and copes with trauma by evaluating them like military operations. His jargon and his instinctual aggression seem, at best, useless and out-of-place. (When Simpson gives Trish a gun in episode 4, he says it’s because he wants to help her feel safe from Kilgrave—but she really needs it to feel safe from him.) At worst, Simpson’s tactics are both useless and alarming. He takes one of Kilgrave’s men captive and wants to torture him for information, but the guy isn’t an alien invader or a cackling villain—he’s a guy with a job, and he’s totally willing to spill the beans *before* losing his kneecaps.
As I discussed in my last review, the Superhero Industrial Complex is not the solution to Jessica Jones’ problems, and military competence is not necessarily the key to success in Jessica’s story. Sure, it would’ve been rad if Jessica, Simpson, and Trish had slightly better hand-to-hand skills to beat up those bodyguards. But I don’t think that’s really the moral we’re meant to take away here. Violence is an essential facet of Jessica’s story, but that’s not to say that her success as that story’s hero simply requires violence that is somehow “better” or “more.” (Needless to say, it’s also refreshing to have a street-level Marvel hero who’s solidly anti-torture.)
So, if Simpson’s military-style heroism isn’t the answer, what is? In the flashbacks, we see Jessica save a little girl (while wearing a sandwich costume, natch). She briefly imagines herself as someone who “saves” people, and starts to listen to Trish—who’s already picking out embarrassing superhero costumes for her.
Back in the present, Jessica has given up on being a hero, but hasn’t given up on saving Hope. In prison, Hope is pregnant and desperate to terminate at any cost. With Hogarth’s help, Jessica pulls some strings and gets her an abortion pill.
This subplot is disturbing, but it’s an honest, progressive depiction of the aftermath of sexual assault. Hope is surrounded by women—Jessica, Hogarth, Sissy (Charleigh E. Parker)—who don’t question Hope’s certainty, and who understand why she needs to end the pregnancy quickly. And really—when was the last time you saw an abortion story on TV or in a movie that didn’t involve some moralizing or debating or perfunctory head-scratching?
Jessica gets Hope the help she needs, but saving people isn’t the easy, black-and-white calling that Trish once imagined. Hogarth secretly arranges to have Hope’s fetal tissue collected for analysis—Hope no longer has to live with the “tumor” growing inside her body, but her ordeal, her trauma, and her fight for justice are far from over.
Then, in another flashback, we learn how Jessica’s first attempt at hero-ing went horrifically wrong. it turns out that Jessica met Kilgrave for the first time while rescuing Malcolm from some muggers. That moment—trying to save a stranger—instigated the worst thing that’s ever happened to her.
In episodes 5 and 6, we see Jessica make a series of incredibly momentous choices to “save” Malcolm—from muggers, from Kilgrave, from drug addiction. Poignantly, Malcolm also has to make an incredible choice to “save” Jessica—to fight for a woman who has both saved his life and been incredibly unkind to him. Jessica Jones takes Malcolm’s heroism just as seriously as it takes Jessica’s. While Jessica once toyed with the idea of being a superhero, Malcolm once wanted to help people as a social worker. They’re both afraid, alone, and broken, and they both face their worst fears to save each other.
In “AKA You’re A Winner!”, Jessica and Malcolm struggle to overcome not just trauma, but guilt. Despite Kilgrave’s mind control, and despite his crippling addiction, Malcolm still feels partly responsible for what happened to him. Likewise, Jessica keeps dwelling on the “tiny part of [her] that fought” Kilgrave’s control—where, exactly, does her responsibility begin and end?
In these two episodes, we see a lot more of David Tennant’s terrifying, purple-tinged villain, and begin to understand more about what motivates him. Kilgrave’s evil is typified not just by his ability to control anyone and everyone, but by his desire to do it. He isn’t just about powers—he is about power. He’s first attracted to Jessica because of her “power,” because he wants the thrill of controlling it himself. In “AKA You’re A Winner!”, he continues to blackmail Jessica, forcing her to send him pictures of herself every day. He calls her from a safe house, speaking directly into the camera, scaring her speechless with his poisonous, velvety voice. Horrifyingly, even when he’s not mind-controlling her, he still has power over Jessica.
In the same way that Hope’s pregnancy was an unbearable remainder of Kilgrave, Jessica can’t shake Kilgrave’s physical control over her. There’s before Kilgrave and after Kilgrave, and Jessica feels like she’s “infecting” everyone around her with her post-Kilgrave dysfunction.
Later, Luke Cage comes to Jessica with a new case. He says that he’s looking for a kid named “Antoine” (Dante E. Clark) who’s run afoul of some nasty loan sharks. But Luke is actually looking into his late wife Reva’s (Parisa Fitz-Henly) wrongful death. In “AKA You’re A Winner!”, Jess and Luke finally get back together, but she still can’t bring herself to tell him about her role in Reva’s death.
Eventually, to stop him from killing a not-so-innocent bus driver, Jessica has to tell Luke the terrible truth—and Luke is completely devastated.
But this scene wasn’t exactly the tearful, explosive confrontation I expected. Jessica’s big confession was kind of anticlimactic and awkward… and I don’t necessarily mean that as a criticism. It reminds me of the way that Ritter and Colter don’t have the easy, rom-com chemistry I expected—they just stare uncomfortably at each other, like they wish they didn’t feel the way they feel, or wish they didn’t care at all. In Jessica Jones, everybody’s more than a little wounded, distant, disconnected. Nothing’s easy. Saving people is complicated. Connection is painful. The only thing scarier than connection is total isolation, total lack of control.
Throughout episodes 5 and 6, there’s a consistent pattern of characters breaking destructive patterns and taking back control. Jessica confronts Kilgrave. Hope takes back her body. Malcolm confronts his addiction. The bus driver promises Luke that he’s quit drinking. Luke manages to control his murderous rage. As Malcolm puts it, “It’s a question of who I am”—it’s a question of asserting agency, of being a person independent of external influence, pain, and power.
At the end of episode 6, even Kilgrave breaks a familiar pattern when he makes a major purchase without using his powers. He buys the house that Jessica grew up in—her childhood home, nestled among her familiar childhood streets. So, in fact, Kilgrave isn’t really breaking his patterns after all. He’s taking over Jessica’s life, but he wants it to be totally legal and unimpeachable. He wants total power—total control.